Supreme Court of Canada Upholds Global Take-Down Order Against Google

July 14, 2017

In a decision that will have far-reaching impacts across the Internet and the world, the Supreme Court of Canada confirmed that Google had to takedown both Canadian and foreign website listings that linked to content infringing on intellectual property rights.

Google Inc. v Equustek Solutions Inc., 2017 SCC 34, the 7-2 decision released June 28, 2017, is particularly significant because of its global reach.

The case stemmed from a claim in British Columbia by a Plaintiff that the Defendant was selling products online which infringed the Plaintiff’s intellectual property rights. The Supreme Court of British Columbia granted an injunction against the Defendant, including an order that prohibited the Defendant from referring to the Plaintiff’s products on its websites. The Defendant failed to comply and continued to sell the infringing material from an unknown location.

The Plaintiff subsequently sought a court order against Google to require the search engine to remove (“de-index”) search results linking to the Defendant’s websites. Google had taken steps to de-list only the infringing Canadian websites and the court then ordered it to block all worldwide websites.

Google appealed the decision to the Court of Appeal of British Columbia, where the decision was upheld. Google then further appealed to the Supreme Court, which held that “The problem in this case is occurring online and globally. The Internet has no borders — its natural habitat is global. The only way to ensure that the interlocutory injunction attained its objective was to have it apply where Google operates — globally.”

This global order may be the first of its kind in the world. Commentators have suggested that this type of order could be used to block worldwide search listings that link to not only materials infringing intellectual property rights, but other objectionable content such as hate speech, defamation or content that infringes personal privacy. Civil rights groups have expressed concern over the potential chill effect on free speech as a result of courts in a specific country having the ability to order takedown of websites based in other countries.

Many interested organizations intervened in the case, including various civil liberties groups, intellectual property rightsholders, and media companies.

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